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Michelle Pluskota

Vice President, Business Services, Big South Region of Comcast Business

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Bandwidth trends: Why speed is important today, tomorrow and beyond

September 10, 2014

The need for faster network speeds (referred to as “bandwidth”) has been growing so quickly that these speeds are now doubling every three years – a staggering statistic we see with our own business customers.

The need for faster network speeds (referred to as “bandwidth”) has been growing so quickly that these speeds are now doubling every three years – a staggering statistic we see with our own business customers. Less than 10 years ago, the typical bandwidth used by small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) was less than one megabit per second (Mbps). Although it was possible for these sized companies to buy more bandwidth, doing so was expensive and rarely requested. Today, Internet providers can deliver a low cost service with speeds up to 150 Mbps with room to grow. At the same time that speeds have increased, bandwidth costs have dramatically decreased.

This increase in speed, coupled with the reduction of bandwidth cost, has opened up a whole new world for SMBs because it enables them to compete with large enterprises in a way they couldn’t do before now. With greater speeds, today they have access to the same tools and technologies that only large enterprises recently could afford. They are able to run applications (including Oracle, SAP, and others typically thought of as “enterprise” applications) that a few years ago they simply couldn’t handle with their slower bandwidth. Furthermore, greater bandwidth at lower cost will continue to be a game-changer for SMBs because of three growing trends with wide-ranging implications.

Acceptance of mobile devices

As people increasingly add new mobile devices to accomplish their computing tasks, the need for more bandwidth will continue to soar. Once, everyone used only a desktop computer. Then we made our first move to mobile, and each added a laptop. Less than 10 years ago, smartphones joined the mix. Now virtually everyone owns a tablet, and we all have almost-nonstop access to an array of business applications. The number of devices accessing our national network, for example, is increasing at a staggering rate of 50 percent per year.

At the rate mobile is expanding, the number of devices connected to IP networks will be nearly triple the size of the global population by 2017. Most of them will connect to these networks to upload or download information—and even faster speeds will be required to keep that information flowing without disruption. For SMBs, in particular, Internet providers are now customizing the packages SMBs need that offer the scalability and affordability for the size of their business.

Use of cloud-based applications

Most mobile devices, as well as desktop computers, access business applications based in “the cloud”— as we refer to software, infrastructure and platform that vendors offer as services from remote locations to companies not wanting to own and operate them on their own premises. Connecting to these cloud-based services requires much more bandwidth than using similar applications on a company’s traditional local-area network.

Being able to access the cloud enables SMBs to compete with larger enterprise companies. Simply put, it’s much more affordable. Rather than investing in significant capital expenditures to house everything onsite, their clouds costs are only a business operating expense.

Emergence of big data

Another quickly growing trend adding to the need for more bandwidth is big data. Not all companies, especially SMBs, are using big data today, but most are evaluating its benefits and looking for ways to adapt it to at least some operations.

Big data is, essentially, the overlaying of digital data and technology onto traditional business data to yield intelligence and insight that cannot be achieved with customary analytical skills and techniques. Some small retail companies, for example, are combining digital data with profit and loss, point-of-sale, financial, and customer information to get a clearer understanding of how, why, and when customers make purchases and to uncover shifts in product demand.

With big data, massive amounts of information are captured, stored, and analyzed in a multi-step process that constantly rides the Internet or a private network, creating more bandwidth requirements. Leveraging the benefits that big data can provide enables SMBs to now compete globally against larger, more robust companies.

As these trends continue to drive the need for greater bandwidth at lower costs, SMBs that have not built out their network speeds will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. However, those that update their bandwidth to meet their changing requirements will be able to deliver the business efficiencies needed to become, and to remain, leaders in their industries.

This article originally appeared on Crain’s Detroit Business.

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